SENIOR-TO-BE WLB KEITH PANKEY tore his Achilles tendon this week, as anyone who has read yesterday's Hot News is now aware. Typically this type of injury is season-ending, as was the case with the Beavs' Gabe Miller earlier in his career. The question begs, how does the injury affect the outlook for the Beaver linebacker corps this season? And could Pankey still make it back in time?
First off, Keith Pankey can't be counted out just yet.
He'll have surgery today and there remains a possibility he could be healed in time to start the season, about seven months away. So there's still a chance Pankey and Dwight Roberson remain the outside starting linebackers this season.
But it also could go the other way, where Pankey redshirts this season and returns in 2011. And if that's the case, the Beavs will now be in effect replacing two starters -- Pankey and the graduating Keaton Kristick. David Pa'aluhi is entrenched as the starting middle 'backer.
Kevin Unga looked impressive in limited time last season, mostly on the strong side, and Keo Camat had his moments as well. Devin Unga also gathered significant experience.
Kevin Unga is arguably the most intriguing prospect. Playing as true freshmen last year, both Unga twins turned heads - but the Ungas were not typical freshman. They both took a mission after graduating from Kahuku High School in 2006. That's right, four years ago. So while light on experience, the Unga brothers are both heavy on physical maturity.
DESPITE THE DEPTH, don't be completely shocked if Pankey's injury presses a true freshman into duty. Shaydon Akuna, one of the Beavers' prize additions from the 2010 class, will be watched closely in fall camp to see how ready he is. While he remains a fall camp possibility to earn time, don't forget about a young man who is already in school and has sky-high potential -- Michael Doctor.
Doctor has blazing speed -- so much so that Coach Mike Riley once commented that they may even consider him at tailback. After delaying enrollment, he came to Oregon State in January as an undersized linebacker (6-0, 195). But at the prep level in Oklahoma, he showed fire and a knack for being extremely difficult to block.
Spring football should begin providing some of the answers. Expect the Unga twins and Doctor to get lots of reps with Pankey out.
Losing Pankey is a blow, no two ways around it. The Beavs at linebacker this year, however, might be in a better than average position to absorb it.
Pankey arrived on the scene early as a true freshman in 2007, burning his redshirt after the second game that season and playing in the final 11 contests. He was a special teams standout who earned a starting spot in 2008, and started every game, rolling up 43 tackles on the season. After the Penn State game, however, Roberson and he became in effect dual starters at the weakside spot.
Coaches love Pankey's speed and grasp of the scheme but at 6-0 and 210 pounds, Pankey is undersized and trouble with sure tackles may have been the cause for Dwight Roberson taking the starting position in 09 at the Will backer position. As in 2008, however, Roberson and Pankey rotated throughout last season.
Pankey did seem to take another step forward towards the end of '09, with moments where he truly played like a guided missile, taking better pursuit angles and making surer, harder tackles.